Anne Hailes reviews On Home Ground

IMG_0668.JPGOn Home Ground Festival
Celebrating Seamus Heaney

During last week the town of Magherafelt was celebrating the great man of literature, Seamus Heaney.

Although lionized by thousands round the world, in this part of Co. Londonderry he is remembered as a friend, a man who often visited the heart of the festival, the Laurel Villa Guest House run by Eugene Kielt and his wife Gerardine.

From small beginnings do mighty enterprises grow. The little town house with a red front door on Church Street, Magherafelt could never have suspected it would be the centre of so much that is important in our literary heritage. Behind the Virginia creeper, Laurel Villa has gone from strength to strength since Eugene and Gerardine decided to develop their bed and breakfast establishment to a small hotel with an emphasis on literature, painting and music.

Last year, just before he was to give a talk at Laurel Villa, Seamus died, and the festival was conceived in his memory with a vast array of events and contributors, school workshops, creative writing sessions, poetry readings and discussions, music performances all given by guests whose lives were influenced by Seamus including painter Colin Davidson, Glenn Patterson, Professor Bernard O’Donoghue, Henry McDonald and Seamus McKee, journalist and author, Liam Clarke and musicians Brian Irvine, Gary Lightbody.

Although the whole town was involved, most of the events took place in The Poetry Tent, a big marquee in the back garden of the guest house.

The excellent curator and host for the four day event was Marie-Louise Muir whose final job was to introduced Sunday’s ‘The Given Note On Home Ground’, an evening of music and verse.

There was great expectation as we gathered in the marquee, a soft September evening and a fine finale.

Three photographic portraits of Seamus, from youth to maturity, looked down on us from behind the stage, those distinctive eyebrows and the quizical glance, a little bemused at seeing us all waiting to hear his words and enjoy his kind of music. And what a lineup – uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn, celloist Neil Martin and Rod McVey who magiced his keyboard from piano to organ to harpsichord. As Liam gave some fascinating insights into his journeys with the poet, outside a little bird began to sing and stayed with us for quite a time and it seemed fitting he enjoyed the event too.

Actress Brid Brennan selected poems and prose and read them with great sensitivity. There were many highlights and a lot of toe tapping to the reels and the jibs. The poem ‘The Given Note’ was accompanied with the haunting music of the Blasket Islands, then we’d the spirited ‘Brendan Voyage’. Other verse, some short and some substantial, included ‘The Bog Queen’, ‘Requiem for the Croppies‘ and ‘Postscript’. An hour and a half of pure gold. At the end of the evening the Heaney smile was surely one of approval as Neil Martin spoke for us all, “Thanks be to God for Seamus Heaney.”

By Anne Hailes

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